International Guitar Festival

Customs House, South Shields

22 July 2001

Bernie Torme

Just saw Bernie Torme and his band playing at the "International Guitar Festival" [the what?]. It's the first time I've even heard of him in 15 years. I didn't even know he was still playing and touring.

He followed two acts of great acoustic players (Kristina Olsen and Steve Phillips) and seemed slightly out of place. Picture this: it's an outdoor, free event, and the 200-or-so in the audience range from age 4 to 74, with families dropping in on their way through town, carrying bags full of shopping. "Ah, some outdoor entrainment", thinks Mr & Mrs Public coming out of the supermarket in the middle of Steve Phillips' set. Torme comes on stage. Mr & Mrs Public look bemused. Torme plugs in his guitar. Mr & Mrs Public leave quickly with their shopping and their offspring.

But the 100+ people who remained all seemed to be fans, and we got a great show. Torme seemed genuinely embarrassed when the announcer called him "an electric guitar legend", and he made several references to how great the previous acts were. When he played a blues number, he apologised for playing slide when the other acts had done it so much better. But promised that his would be louder!

He played for about 90 minutes; a few of his own songs (which I didn't know) and a few Gillan songs. He really is an excellent player. It's so long since I've listened to tapes of him with Gillan, I'd forgotten just how good he was.

Unfortunately, he doesn't really have much of a voice. His singing is... how can I put it... "enthusiastic". But to be honest it didn't matter; he knows his limits, and everybody was there to see a guitar player anyway. When a song like Trouble comes to a "scream", he takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, and... plays it on the guitar!

He finished with an excellent version of Purple Haze then came back on for an encore of Smoke on the Water (playing a guitar/vocal call-and-response with himself!). Then, bizarrely, Pretty Vacant finished the set!

He's still a superb player, he has a great bunch of songs, and he's a funny and entertaining front man. Go and see him if you get the chance.

Big Jim Sullivan

Well I went to see Big Jim Sullivan last night, with no idea what to expect.

It was worth seeing. He really is an amazing guitar player. He plays a lot of styles: jazz, latin, ragtime, classical, rock'n'roll, and stuff that I can only call "easy listening". He played some electric and some acoustic (and seems to prefer acoustic). He doesn't play anything remotely like Ritchie Blackmore.

He's not especially flashy (though he does play Johnny B Good behind his head!), but he's very skilful and incredibly fast. He also seems to really enjoy what he does. If you're a fan of guitar music in general, I would recommend trying to see him.